From The Desk Of Joe “Shithead” Keithley: D.O.A. In China, Part 5

doa_great-wall_3350doagreatwallIn January 2008, 30 years after forming, D.O.A.—Canada’s original punk rockers and one of the world’s first hardcore groups—made history once again, becoming the first Western-based political-punk band to tour China. All this week, guest editor and D.O.A. frontman Joey “Shithead” Keithley looks back on the historic trip and gives a fascinating and uncensored glimpse into a part of the world most of us will never see.

Day Eight
We get up early, as we have an exciting day ahead of us. (Tour manager) Abe (Deyo) has hired a driver and a car to take us up to the Great Wall. Our driver arrives; he’s a middle-aged guy with a small, beat-up old car, but what the heck, it’s only $120 (U.S.) in total. We grab some street-vendor food to go and set off. Our driver does not speak English, but he keeps telling Abe in Mandarin that if we get pulled over, we have not paid him money to drive us. He says if we get pulled over, our “story” to the cops is that “we are all friends.” So he makes up Chinese names for all of us, which, of course, we can’t quite get the handle of pronouncing correctly. He tells us his name, and we don’t understand that either, so we name him “Bob.” On the 40-mile drive, Abe is trying to sleep, but Bob keeps yakking at him. This 40 miles takes about 90 minutes, as Bob is the only slow driver we have encountered on our entire tour. We finally get to the Great Wall; it took quite a huff and a puff to climb up to the section we went to. Some of the stairs would be quite low, six inches or so, and then with no rhyme or reason, the stairs would be anywhere from 18 inches to two feet in height. At times, I was pulling myself up the stairs by arm strength, using the railing. But the effort was worth it.

We get back down to the parking lot and meet up with good old Bob. Abe wants to sleep, so he gets in the backseat to avoid Bob’s yakking. I sit up front with Bob. He starts yakking at me. I understand nothing of what he is saying, but I nod my head in agreement to keep him happy. What I do understand is that Bob is lost. (Drummer) Floor Tom thinks his eyesight is shot. I keep pointing at the green expressway signs, but he does not figure this out. After about half an hour of side roads, he finally gets on the correct highway. We pass the Bird’s Nest Olympic Stadium, so everything is kosher. Bob tries talking to me again, but he finally realizes I do not understand Mandarin, so he starts singing Chinese folk songs. I figure he wants a reply, so I start singing songs back at him. He smiles, so we start trading off verses back and forth of various disconnected songs.

We get to that glorious Home Inn. Time to collect our shit and head out to the Beijing airport and fly to Shanghai. Once at the airport, we again notice a ton of Chinglish (combine Chinese and English), such as signs in the washrooms that say, “Please be kindness and please be flushing” or “For your privateness please door locking.” English is very prevalent here. In fact, predictions are that there will be more people that speak English here than in the U.S.A in 20 years or so.

Day Nine
Floor Tom is off early to catch a different flight home than Dan and I. So later that morning, Abe, (bassist) Dan and I go to do some shopping. Abe tells me there is a military-surplus store that’s cool, so we head there. I try on a bunch of these Chinese-soldier long-green coats with red stars attached. Of course, we are having a great time, laughing as I am going, “How do I look?” Then I go to buy one of those peaked military hats to go with the coat. Abe realizes that there are a couple of off-duty police men in the shop while we are there and they start to bitch at the shop owner that a foreigner shouldn’t be in there buying this military gear. So Abe quickly hustles us out, as they are starting to get hostile. I mean, what the fuck were they thinking? Hey! Maybe one white guy was going to buy a uniform and covertly stage an invasion of China! Chairman Joe. Hey, it’s got a nice ring to it.

Well it’s time to say goodbye to Abe. He’s been a great host and an indispensible tour manager. We probably would have ended up in prison without him. Dan and I are first in the lineup for the airport bus; we wait a bit, and the bus finally arrives. The bus-door opens, and I have to grab all my three bags and my guitar and lug them onto the bus. This lady and her pal try to budge in front of me and my gear. Hey, bad move. I have been in China for a week, so I quickly block her entrance onto the bus with my guitar case and say to her, “It’s best to wait your turn.”

Before we left on the D.O.A. tour of China, I did not know what to expect. Now I do, and I can’t wait to get back.

Film At 11: MC Lars

What happens when you cross an English major, a laptop, dope beats and lyrics with a purpose? You get West Coast post-punk, laptop rapper MC Lars. For a decade, Lars has been creating music that covers everything from social issues to summarizing works of literature and even paying homage to b-movie actor Bruce Campbell. Lars’ latest album, This Gigantic Robot Kills, came out earlier this year, and “True Player For Real” features Weird Al Yankovic on accordion. This month, Lars drops the Single And Famous EP with K.Flay.

MP3 At 3PM: New Roman Times

nrtwallpaper4728This Austin, Texas, quartet is more than just a clever remix of everyone’s go-to font. New Roman Times combine the best elements of punk with the sprawling sound of its home state, sort of like Explosions In The Sky if that band was fronted by Black Francis. Fans of classic rock and contemporary pop will also find much to like in “Smoke In Your Disguise,” the first single from the new On The Sleeve.

“Smoke In Your Disguise” (download):

As Tall As Lions Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape


Long Island-based As Tall As Lions got it right when titling its third album You Can’t Take It With You (Triple Crown, out August 18); the quartet leaves it all on the floor, enduring a recording session for the LP that found the band members parting ways with their producer and nearly breaking up in the process. The hard-won result is a collection of epic, yearning songs with the dreamy romanticism of  U.K. groups such as Coldplay and Doves. The band’s MAGNET mix tape showcases the myriad sounds percolating around the Lions’ den.

“Circles” (download):

The Persuaders “Love’s Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out)”
A brilliant song about love falling apart. Aggressive yet soulful, this 1971 top-10 hit instantly caught my ear when I heard it on late-night radio. While recording our last record in Los Angeles, I found a re-pressing of it on vinyl and probably played it about 100 times a day.

Daft Punk “Something About Us”
A longtime friend opened my ears to Daft Punk only recently. For me, electronic music can go either way. It’s not often that I hear a track like this and dig it, let alone get the chills like I do when I listen to this track. Great bass line, amazing groove. If you haven’t heard this record, I suggest all the dance freaks go pick this up.

King Crimson “21st Century Schizoid Man”
The mecca of ’70s prog rock. Under the strict rule of guitarist/band leader Robert Fripp, this opening track on King Crimson’s 1969 debut left the musical world asking, “What the fuck?” This is not only one of the most bombastic songs ever written, but it also showed musicians that they were going about their instruments all wrong.

Bob Marley “Kinky Reggae”
My favorite song by one of my favorite artists. You can never go wrong with Bob Marley. I’m pretty sure every song he ever put out was great, but this sexy tune sticks out. Bob and his boys were young, full of fire and, according to the lyrics, ready to get down.

Blonde Redhead “Equus”
This is the last song on their 2004 record Misery Is A Butterfly. It opens with a killer bass riff, explodes into double-time drum groove, dirty guitars, distorted female vocals and stays groovy all the way through. What else can you ask for?

Black Star “Brown Skin Lady”
Off one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time by two of the most talented cats around. Mos Def and Talib Kweli honor the grace and beauty of those dark-skinned women I love so much. I listen to this record pretty much every single day, but somehow I’m still not bored of it. A true hip-hop classic.

Can “Future Days”
The best band ever to make records. Truly progressive, making every record different than the next. This number is the title track from my favorite album of theirs. Eight minutes of krautrock history showcasing singer Damo Suzuki’s phenomenal melodic sense.

The Eternals “Crime”
One of my recent discoveries. In this song, the Chicago-based dub group plays one of the deepest grooves I’ve heard in long time. They only made two records, but try to get a hold of this gem. It’s definitely worth the listen.

Talk Talk “Happiness Is Easy”
If you haven’t heard of this band, you must be crazy. Dark, ambient synth pop with children who sing the vocals. Kind of reminds me of my own band. Go figure.

D’Angelo “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)”
The sexiest song ever. I’m a sucker for this song—and the entire album. Another record that I listen to on an everyday basis that never seems to get old. Also, perfect for makin’ babies.

From The Desk Of Joe “Shithead” Keithley: D.O.A. In China, Part 4

doa_beijing-lama-temple2doa_shanghaIn January 2008, 30 years after forming, D.O.A.—Canada’s original punk rockers and one of the world’s first hardcore groups—made history once again, becoming the first Western-based political-punk band to tour China. All this week, guest editor and D.O.A. frontman Joey “Shithead” Keithley looks back on the historic trip and gives a fascinating and uncensored glimpse into a part of the world most of us will never see.

Day Six
The gig in Nanjing has been cancelled. Apparently the gear was crap and nobody showed up the week before at another show (tour manager) Abe (Deyo) had promoted. So we get a day of sightseeing in Shanghai. Spectacular city; on one side of the river are the old French colonial buildings, on the other side there is the new Shanghai. The new Shanghai has skyline that almost rivals Manhattan in size; the amazing part of this is that 20 years ago, that side of the river was a sleepy fishing village. Then after the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Deng Xiaoping started China’s economic revolution. It has produced results that are far from evenhanded, but they’re amazing never the less.

In central areas of the big towns, we saw plenty of BMWs and Mercedes, women dressed in the highest fashion, men decked out in new suits and shops stacked full of as many consumer goods as we have in the west. But for everybody you saw that had a lot, there were 10 times as many that were just getting by. You would see a little weather-beaten guy riding a bike with five or six grey plastic bags full of something he might be collecting or recycling, like bottles, cloth, bits of plastic, wood, metal—nothing is wasted in this country. Or you would see a guy sitting on the sidewalk with bicycle-repair materials, and that was his shop, rain or shine or the nastily cold weather we were experiencing. You would see a little machine shop in a storefront eight-feet wide and maybe 15-feet deep; the father was working at the front of the shop, while the mother was there preparing dinner at the end of the metal lath, with their kid playing there as well. You also saw the craziest motorized contraptions everywhere, a little shitty scooter with a mini trailer attached to the back with a plastic tent erected over top of the scooter.

After the sightseeing, Abe left us at a coffee shop for a couple of hours; he had some biz to take care of. So we wandered down to a DVD store, (bassist) Dan and (drummer) Floor Tom purchased excellent copies of movies that were still in theaters back home for two bucks a pop. We went back to the coffee shop to wait for Abe. We had to catch the night train to Beijing at 7 p.m., and we couldn’t fuck up because it was the last one of the day. Abe came back about 90 minutes late; it was about 5 p.m., and we still had to collect our bags and gear from the hotel and make the train. We ran to the hotel and picked up the gear. We started looking for a cab, but there was none to be found. It was Friday at rush hour.

We started jogging at half pace toward the station carrying all of our shit. This went on for about 20 minutes or so; still no taxi, and it’s about 6:15. We finally find a cab, cram in and proceed to get into the biggest gridlock I have ever seen. It doesn’t seem to matter to the motorists what color the traffic light is—they all just jam their cars into whatever open space they can find. So nobody really moves, it’s about 6:40, and by this time, the cursing collectively emanating forth from D.O.A.’s lips would have made a sailor blush. We finally get to the station at about 6:45. We are running full speed at this point. We have to go through a bomb-detection area; when we are through, a Chinese soldier picks up one of the guitars and helps us out by running full steam through the station with us. The soldier gives us back the guitar and heads back at the escalators. Abe picks up the bass and the guitar and starts running at full speed. His Tai Kwan Do training is paying off, as we are pulling up the rear, huffing and puffing to beat the band. I have seen a lot of big train stations in New York and Europe, but Shanghai’s station dwarfs any of those. We finally find our train and our car. Shit that was a marathon! Tough, but good stuff!

The train itself is really new and really nice. I was pleasantly surprised. There was a great dining car; after dinner, we head back to our compartment. As the train is clacking along, I keep wondering if we will get involved in a modern Murder On The Orient Express-type situation; no such luck. Instead Dan and I play cribbage, and I talk him into finishing the last of the rice wine. This makes it easy to skunk him at crib. A capital maneuver, Joe old boy! Capital indeed! After the crib, it’s lights out. I listen to wheels clacking along. I sleep with one eye open on the Orient Express.

Day Seven
We get off the train at 7 a.m. and go straight to the biggest cab queue I have ever seen in my life. There is a back-and-forth gated lineup (like something at an amusement park), as there must have been 800 people lined for cabs. When we got to the front of the lineup, we could see that there were four lines of cabs, each line 10-12 cars deep and waiting. Then we saw the most important man in Beijing: the cab commandant. He would blow his whistle and the people would rush out to the four cabs at the front of the line. If you didn’t, the cab commandant would get furiously mad. Don’t mess with the cab commandant … ever … dude.

We got back to our home away from home, the Home Inn, and dropped our stuff off. Then we hailed another cab and hustled down to Tiananmen Square. Wow, this is history—the massive square, home of the famous failed protests 20 years before. On the south side of the square: Chairman Mao’s tomb. On the west side: the Communist Party headquarters. On the north side: the overwhelming Forbidden City. On the east side: Larry Ho’s Camera And Bag Check And Souvenir Shop. Wow! Well, actually it was not called Larry Ho’s, but we had to check all of our cameras there, as they were not allowed in Mao’s tomb.

We get into the hall just outside of where Mao’s body rests, and it is full of pictures and stories of the leaders of the Revolution. We enter Mao’s tomb, and the rule is that you cannot stop and look. The line must keep moving. Well, there he is. Lying on his back, surrounded by high glass. There is kind of an usher guy hanging out, and two soldiers standing at rigid attention with their bayonets fixed. I whisper to Floor Tom, “Does he look real, or is he wax?” I walk as slowly as I can, and I am the last one in our group. I finally come to a complete stop as I stare at the Chairman; in a split second, the usher has his hand on my shoulder, pushing me along. Well he wasn’t that big of a guy, so I figured I could have taken him out to stay longer, but I had to consider the guys with the bayonets. As you leave the tomb, of course, you come to the souvenir shop. We all bought a souvenir. I purchased a nice key chain. Reasonably priced, too.

We walk across the square to the Forbidden City, home of the Qing and Ming dynasties. Completely incredible, it’s about a mile wide and two miles deep. The emperors had many different ornate temples erected, each one specifically set up to consider all the problems of running China, from farming to war to concubines to weather.

The show that night was in Beijing’s university district. The club was called D-22, and it was run by an ex-New Yorker. Cool show—lots of good original bands opening. I had to use a VOX 30 amp that night, and somehow it worked. The whole Chinese punk-rock scene feels like it did back in about 1982. It’s really fun, new and urgent. It’s cool that we get to be part of it for awhile. That show was a good way to end the performance part of our trip.

Film At 11: The Upwelling

So the Upwelling decided to tour Europe. Nothing special right? Wrong. They did it with no agent, no bus, no crew, no manager and nowehere to stay. They took some great moments from their tour and decided to make a music video for “Wanderlust.” The result? An honest and endearing look at life on the road, complete with concert shots and road trips. Not a bad tune, either.

TiVo Party Tonight: Kitty, Daisy & Lewis

tivokdl3764Ever wonder what will happen during the last five minutes of late-night TV talk shows? Here are tonight’s notable performers:

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (NBC): Kitty, Daisy & Lewis
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis are a British family band that plays blues and swing covers; the primary trio (though often accompanied by their parents) are 21 or under. And somewhere, some old codger is hollering about kids listening to crap nowadays. The trio has just released Kitty, Daisy & Lewis (DH Records), on which eight of the 10 songs are classic covers. The band is currently touring the U.S. with Coldplay.

MP3 At 3PM: Sugarplum Fairies

sugarplumkitten4848Vienna natives Silvia Ryder and Ben Bohm may go by the hyper-twee name Sugarplum Fairies, but they won’t be conjuring images of ballerinas and children’s stories. Backed by an assortment of guest musicians including Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.), Sugarplum Fairies have just released Chinese Leftovers, an album that mixes dream pop, indie rock and alt-country. Download “First Rate Show,” which sounds more like the Velvet Underground than The Nutcracker, with breathy female vocals and a jazzy horn section.

“First Rate Show” (download):